It's been an embarrassingly long time since I've written, as evidenced by the Carleton students crossing the street in shorts, the men resting their bikes against the side of the coffee shop in even tighter shorts, in the green fuzzing of the bush across the street, in the songs melting out through the open windows of sedans and minivans alike.
Thisbe went off to Gak's for an overnight (and procured gold and shiny and glittery flip flops that don't even have any straps on the back!!!!!--according to her breathless voice on the phone) and so you sat with us in the breakfast nook this afternoon, after you'd finished your peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You looked out the window and said "kitty bye-bye," and "Di-dee bye-bye" and "boat swim" and finally, noting the Kristen Gilje painting on the wall, "Holden! Holden!" You're a tiny parrot, often spitting the last few words of my sentences right back at me.
"Should we go to the library now?"
"I'm going to put the chicken in the oven."
Or, at lunch:
"He is just so sweet sometimes."
Then again and again, wrinkling up your nose and laughing: "Sweet! Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!"
You love to be outside and you cry as if we were ripping the very world from your skin when we bring you inside. Even if you're not actually doing anything. Yesterday you were just sitting in the pebble-filled playground of Way Park, absent-mindedly running your fingers through bits of rock, when we told you it was time to go. "No, no!" you said. Hysterics ensued.
Today at church I was sitting behind a couple with a seven-month-old. Midway through the service the baby started smiling at his father, that very first newborn smile where the baby is learning his lips, trying to stretch them in a way that says here is some joy for you. And you could tell, from the way the parents bent their heads over him, that he'd never smiled so much or so long. And the parents were clearly so hungry for the glimpse of the baby's personality, to know how he wears joy.
I felt the tiny stab of course--the never-again-that-moment-exactly-with-a-baby-of-ours stab--but gratitude for getting to witness that moment. The purity of that sort of happiness.
And I was also grateful for how much better we know you now. Your sweetness, yes. But also the way you cock your head to the side and look downward if you've done something wrong. Also the way you'll pick your nose or drop food off your tray or pull your own hair if I tell you in a faux-stern voice absolutely NOT to do that. You slide in and out of sleep easily and you're generally content as long as you're with us--until you can't get a Lego affixed or open the lid of a jar of beads or push the shopping cart over the lip of metal that separates the kitchen from the dining room. Then you shriek and yell "hep! hep!" until someone comes along to help you.
I got to wear my joy face a lot this last week. I won an award for a book I wrote and many people I love were there at the ceremony: Daddy and Gak and Ampa and Mark and Dot; Emily and Ally and Bonnie and Jodi; friends from Supergroup and buddies from the Mentor Series. I wore a black dress and a necklace I made our of fuchsia, rectangular stones. I curled my hair and swirled blush and powder around on my cheeks. When I won I was stuttery. I walked to the podium with hunched shoulders because I was so intent on not tripping in my heels. They projected my joy face on two big screens and gave me a glass trophy that was almost as heavy as you. I was very happy. (Or: I was happy as a writer can be who also feels bad for the people who didn't win and thinks maybe she really shouldn't have been the one to win and hopes she's being the right amount of not-acting-narcissistic but also not being the too-Minnesota-humble that's a little pukey in it's own right).
But the best part was seeing Daddy's face. And Gak's face. And Mark's face. Because the joy dies pretty quick if when you smile no one returns it, no one reflects it right back at you. I got a lot of smiles--or e-mails or Facebook "likes" or phone calls that were the equivalent of smiles this week. And for that I'm really grateful. Because it is not always an easy thing to be happy for someone else. I have friends who are hurting in some of the deepest ways someone can hurt right now, friends who have lost relationships or miscarried; friends whose writing is not getting recognized in the way that it should be or who are hella tired from supporting the other beings in their lives.
We all deserve to be recognized. We all deserve the walk to the podium and the statue that looks like Elsa's frozen mucus. But most of the time no one sees our bravest moments; the ones most worthy of a standing ovation.
So we're responsible, I think, for trying to see them in each other. For trying to recognize the person sitting with grief rather than shoving it away or the friend who manages to ask how you are in the hours before the scan to see if his cancer has returned.
I'm so proud, Matteus, of each two-word sentence, each new expression of yourself. I'll be watching you, sweetest. I'll be marking the moments where you muster the courage or the skill or the grace or the compassion to do the impossible thing.